Omran, a 4-year-old Syrian boy covered in dust and blood, sits in an ambulance after being rescued from the rubble of a building hit by an airstrike in the Syrian city of Aleppo in August 2016. (Ahmoud Rslan/AFP/Getty Images)
Opinion writer

As special counsel Robert S. Mueller III moves step-by-step closer to implicating President Trump, and as his Supreme Court nominee looks less like a slam-dunk with each passing hour, Trump feels compelled to try to distract the country, recast the headlines and, most of all, incite his xenophobic base.

On Monday, he did just that, first with his inexplicable, dangerous decision to override the intelligence community on the release of classified documents, and then in restricting legal immigration — in the most cruel and petty way one could imagine.

The Post reports:

The United States will admit no more than 30,000 refugees in the coming fiscal year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday, the lowest number in decades and a steep cut from the 45,000 allowed in this year.

The new number is a small fraction of one percentage point of the almost 69 million displaced people in the world today. But Pompeo said the United States remains the most generous nation when other U.S. aid to refugees is taken into account, including funds to shelter and feed refugees in camps closer to their home countries.

Several Democrats blasted the president. Sen. Robert Menendez (N.J.), the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, issued a written statement calling the action “truly repugnant.” He declared that this is another instance in which we see “the Trump administration double down on its efforts to reject our foundational values and humanitarian duty of providing those escaping persecution the opportunity to seek protection and safe haven.” He continued, “Our refugee resettlement program plays a critical role not only in promoting stability around the world, but in elevating our moral leadership on the global stage. Yet today, the Trump administration announced its refugee policy will continue to do untold damage to our nation’s values and countless lives across the world.”

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) echoed that sentiment. “In so many ways, this White House has shown a particular contempt for the world’s most vulnerable people seeking refuge from persecution and war,” he said. “What previous Republican and Democratic administrations believed was a moral responsibility — and a way to demonstrate that unmatched American power is derived in part from how we treat the powerless among us — the Trump administration shamelessly treats as a burden to be callously discarded.”

If evangelical Christians were sincerely focused on the plight of Christians in communist and Muslim countries, they would not be so quiet about how Trump’s lack of empathy harms their fellow Christians. (“In his first year in office, Trump set the cap at 50,000, before cutting it to 45,000, and now again by a third,” the Post article noted. “According to the International Rescue Committee, the number of refugee admissions is down dramatically for Christians, Muslims, Yazidis and Rohingya. At the end of last month, just 60 refugees from Syria had been allowed into the United States this year despite an ongoing war that has displaced millions of citizens and caused a refugee crisis in neighboring countries.”)

It is at times such as this that we dearly miss John McCain’s voice of moral clarity. We know what the late senator would have said, for in his final book he wrote, “The way he speaks about [refugees] is appalling, as though welfare or terrorism were the only purposes they could have in coming to our country.”

At present, it is left primarily to Democrats to argue that the Trump administration’s move is counterproductive, damages to our image abroad and weakens our ability to urge allies to take in refugees that are closer to their borders than to the United States. When we deny entry to refugees, we give comfort to their persecutors and dissuade them from giving us assistance (e.g., as spies or guides) for fear they will be abandoned after they are no longer useful.

Aside from ignoring our own interests, the move is a repudiation of a bipartisan tradition exemplified in President Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on a hill” metaphor and in historic acts of compassion, such as the rescue of Vietnamese boat people after the Vietnam War. It’s a reminder of dark days in the 1930s when European refugees fleeing fascists were turned away.

Jake Sullivan, a former senior national security adviser to Hillary Clinton, told me in an email, “This decision is a direct product of the Trump administration’s nasty streak. It flows from an attitude which says, ‘To hell with those women and children fleeing war and violence and persecution — they probably deserve what they’re getting!'” He added, “It’s been a long time in this country since there was such a big moral gap between a big-hearted American people and their small-minded leaders.”

A great country shouldn’t behave this way. Thanks to Trump, the message to the world is that the United States is too weak, afraid and poor to take in those fleeing persecution.